BEIRUT: DNA tests were required to identify the bodies retrieved after a vessel carrying Lebanese and other migrants to Australia sank off the coast of Indonesia last week, a Lebanese envoy to Jakarta told The Daily Star Monday.
“I examined 33 bodies today in the public hospital of Jakarta and I couldn’t identify any. It is as if they were struck by an atomic bomb,” said Toufic Hamzeh, who was dispatched to Indonesia by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to follow up on the issue.
“Relatives of the travelers should send DNA samples to the Lebanese Embassy here [Indonesia] so that DNA tests can be conducted to identify the bodies,” Hamzeh added.
Hamzeh said that he was informed by the Indonesian police that a remaining 25 bodies would be brought to the hospital Tuesday.
At least 26 Lebanese asylum-seekers drowned in the boat accident on Friday. They were attempting to illegally migrate to Australia. Indonesian police said there were 80 people aboard the boat that was headed for Australia’s Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. The Lebanese victims are mainly from Akkar and the northern city of Tripoli.
Hamzeh said that 18 Lebanese survived the accident. “I visited some of them who were put in a hotel by Indonesian authorities, far from Jakarta, at least six to seven hours by car,” he said. “We provided them with clothes and mobiles ... they cannot leave the hotel.”
“I heard about three Lebanese women who survived and are in hospital,” Hamzeh said, adding he was on his way to see them.
Hamzeh said that the process of bringing the Lebanese survivors back home would take from 10 to 15 days since they lacked legal documents.
He explained that there were some Lebanese who couldn’t make the trip and were arrested by Indonesian authorities for lacking documentation. “I will try to solve their problem to bring them back home,” Hamzeh said.
Survivors of the accident told journalists that they sent their GPS coordinates to Australian rescuers for assistance, but no one came to their aid.
But on Monday Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison dismissed questions over Australia’s response as “offensive” and rejected suggestions that help was promised by Australian authorities that never materialized.
He said the tragedy had “occurred in Indonesia’s search-and-rescue region, close – very close – to the Indonesian coast.”
Hundreds have died in fatal sinkings in recent years, as large numbers continue to board rickety, wooden boats in Indonesia to try and make the treacherous sea crossing to Australia.
Residents of Akkar blocked main roads Monday demanding that the fate of their relatives be uncovered.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt called on the Lebanese government Monday to implement development projects in the north.
“The despair of its people has forced several of them to escape poverty, and [led to their] death after all possibilities of life were no longer available to them,” he said in his weekly editorial at PSP’s Al-Anbaa online newspaper.
“Why isn’t attention being given to this area and why aren’t its main facilities operating, something that would contribute to moving the economic cycle?” Jumblatt asked.
The PSP leader proposed projects to improve Tripoli’s port and operate the Rashid Karami International Fair Ground in Tripoli, the oil refinery in Beddawi and the Rene Mouawad Airport in Qleiaat.
He also called for protecting the agriculture sector and developing trade in Tripoli’s markets along with other measures.
“What prevents starting the implementation of development plans to remove deprivation and achieve reconciliation between people and the state in these districts?” Jumblatt asked.
Jumblatt called on the government to swiftly respond to the accident which occurred on Indonesia’s coast and compensate relatives of the victims, saying this would send positive signs to residents of Akkar.
For his part, Akkar MP Nidal Tohmeh called on the government to uncover the identity of the person who was directly responsible for the tragedy.
“If negligence and the absence of the state continues, then this incident will occur again,” said Tohmeh, from the Future parliamentary bloc of Hariri.
Tohmeh said that Akkar MPs have presented several plans to achieve development in Akkar. These included opening the Rene Mouawad Airport in Qleiaat, Tohmeh said, adding that such attempts had hit a dead end.